An interview, with future Town Supervisor for Fallsburg*, Mike Bensimon, offers insights into his background as an auditor and public policy analyst.
Patricio Robayo: [00:00:00] We start a little bit on sort of your background? You are working the audit office for the county, right?
Mike Bensimon: Currently I was in audit for the first, six years with the county. For the last year, I have been in the office of management and budget.
Patricio Robayo: shed some light on, what led you to pursue this role as supervisor, what wanted you to get to, get involved and not run not for a town board position, but to actually be supervisor?
Mike Bensimon: Definitely, I really wasn’t expecting it in the beginning. I knew I wanted to run again only because I felt like I had a lot to contribute to the town board. But there was talks about maybe the Democrat committee not running somebody or, somebody, some people were interested, but not, don’t know if they had work commitments.
And as, the vast majority of the supervisor races in our county went uncontested which is I find that to be horrible. I think every [00:01:00] election should have somebody run or two people, at least two people run. so Just the idea of incumbents running unopposed and off your elections where most people don’t come out, just seems like it, it’s not a, it’s not a thriving functional democracy.
So I, I felt Even though beingout in the spotlight isn’t for me when it comes to actually doing the work of government administration that’s what I live for, basically my, my passion has always been in public service and volunteering in usually in governmental organizations and various means.
So I’m, I’ve always been a big proponent of what. Government, has a potential to do. However, like most, like many people from the public I’ve always felt that our tax dollars are not necessarily spent in [00:02:00] the best ways, or if there are there is some degree of Waste or fraud or some kind of abuse, or it’s just not the most efficient use of funds which kind of led me down the path of being a governmental auditor.
That’s really my passion to just go into an organization as what’s known as a, in our field, a bureau pathologist to be able to look at large bureaucratic organizations, that can have. Multiple layers and, it’s very difficult to, follow the money and, follow the programs and see where the spending going.
I just love going into large organizations and dissecting them and getting to know more about them. I’ve always been very analytical growing up pretty much from being as a child. I like to take things apart, figure out how they work and have a better understanding of, how to utilize them.
And that’s essentially what I’ve done as a auditor for well over a [00:03:00] decade now. Specifically in the governmental sphere I’m a public policy analyst formerly trained analyst. And I would look at actual governmental programs to determine if they are reasonable, if they will, have the intended effect.
those two areas I focus on is efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is being able to accomplish the mission. wiTh, the least amount of financial resources, least amount of administrative resources to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak and effectiveness, which is the most important piece is, to ensure that the program that was designed to alleviate some kind of social issue does actually have its intended Effect.
And and another piece of it is as an auditor is to determine that it’s also not having a negative effect somewhere else. I came from the state. Doing as a state auditor and inspector general’s office overseeing the MTA which [00:04:00] was tremendous. It was it was a lot of really good work.
However it wasn’t all that fulfilling in the sense of getting to my Inner curiosity. When I attended John J College of Criminal Justice in their inspector general program, specifically a master’s of public administration which is like a formal program for future city managers, but also for auditors and efficiency experts.
And in that, and I really enjoyed that program because we looked at. Entire governmental systems, essentially looking at a model city and looking at water, sewer, public safety, fire finances, bonding roads, all the things that a typical governmental entity does. So when I went to the MTA, doing audits over there, it was really transportation specific it was very buses, trains, subways, and [00:05:00] things like that, which was.
Incredibly interesting. And it also had a law enforcement arm that we’d oversee as well. We do basically be the internal affairs for that, which is interesting, but it didn’t give me the bigger picture. So when I had an opportunity to come to the county, I Loved it because, it had waste, it had public safety, it had social welfare services, be the, be it the Department of Family Services or public health, so you get a much better.
Big picture understanding of what government does in our society but it doesn’t show you the whole picture really the lowest level of government, which is our towns and I guess also our villages is what has the most impact on our day to day lives. And so I, I have a very good understanding of state and county operations and how they relate.
To each other. [00:06:00] But as a citizen, as a resident of Fallsburg, I could only try to get whatever information I can from the town board meetings and from the budget that’s online, which is, can only show you so much. So there was a real desire for me to run for office, if only to gain access to data.
Thank you. So I can, and talking about one of the things or some of the things I’m looking to do in the short term is you just gave an auditor the keys to the kingdom. So I plan on conducting a lot of different management audits, to look at the cost effectiveness of our services and to determine where we are lacking where we have gaps that we can fill.
And that’s, that’s going to require a process that first starts with me learning what day to day operations look like reviewing all written policies and procedures [00:07:00] and for me, as an internal controls auditor reviewing in their procedures internal controls, which is.
Fundamental aside during my campaign, I spoke about looking to close the bribery loophole which is, the section in the town law that allows town officials and employees to accept gifts, gratuities of up to 75 in cash, services. aNd it doesn’t define a timeframe like the county law does, at least the county law says 75 a year, which I think is also not great.
I’m planning on changing that to the state standard, which is gifts of nominal value, which is really just like a promotional key chain or something I really cannot. Influence in any way. So in that process, I also want to look at our internal controls because the whole idea of imposing good internal controls and, everyday processes segregation of duties and, various things to is to have [00:08:00] a reasonable assurance that if there was no oversight.
And nobody was looking and everyone was doing was following the procedures as they were written that they would have enough controls there to be able to detect or deter any kind of errors or omissions. And not to mention fraud waste and all these other things. So I want to look at the internal processes.
I want to review employee productivity. I want to know. So this is what I look to do in the short term, just to get a full understanding of town operations so I can seek to enhance them and bring, and modernize when possible.
Patricio Robayo: Now, this is not your first attempt to being running for the supervisor in Fallsburg.
What do you think was different this time around? What do you think set this campaign apart from your previous one?
Mike Bensimon: Last time I ran for council and this time I’m running for, I ran for supervisor. I
Patricio Robayo: thought it was the other one. [00:09:00] I’m sorry about that. Oh,
Mike Bensimon: yeah. This time I, I definitely have a greater appreciation for the field of political science.
Last time around, I just I was enamored with the process, and trying to create a grassroots campaign and, and trying, I, I wouldn’t want to take any donations because I don’t want to feel influenced and I don’t want to I, I didn’t really have a good volunteer base, to go out and make phone calls.
I, but I was going through the motions that I learned as a child looking at our democratic process, and just en enjoying that process. But. Political science is an actual science. It’s part marketing. It’s part statistics. It’s part psychology. I got to learn to review a lot of data historical, voting data and try to[00:10:00] approach it things a little bit different, I definitely want, I, Definitely try to reach out to more stakeholders this time around to try to get a coalition, of supporters out there try to reach out to those who, again, the stakeholders are usually fire commissioners, fire departments community based organizations like Fallsburg Futures, that are usually concerned.
Fallsburg’s future has been always been very concerned with the things that goes on in the community. So it was, I tried to spend a lot more time reaching out to folks. I definitely spent a lot more time on the phones. And I definitely spent a whole lot more time knocking on doors this time around.
The results were unexpected. I have to say but I’m very reassuring. One thing I have to say is that I was disappointed in the turnout. The turnout was a lot lower this time around than it was two years ago. I was [00:11:00] really trying to bang on doors to try to get people out to vote this time around.
And the turnout was significantly less than two years ago so I, that’s something that we’re going to have to. Address to try to get out the vote next time around because it’s really is a shame. We have over 75 or 7700 registered voters in Fallsburg. But, last election we had 25 2700 show up and this election we had less than 2000.
So that’s, that’s always disappointing because the more people come out, the results are definitely more reflective Of the will of the people.
Patricio Robayo: Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s, it is concerning that, less people are coming. You mentioned also the supervisors running unopposed. I think there was only 3 races Fallsburg, Highland, and I think Wurzburg was the only ones really had any kind of Sort of competition there, so you mentioned some of the concerns that you hear [00:12:00] from residents, you’ve been going out more knocking on doors, there’s a current proposal right now from the town board to make consider zone, those zone changes in lost shelter to curb growth of high density residential development is going on Foolsburg, it’s, in the last meeting I attended in the town of Foolsburg, they mentioned in the, during the presentation that there are 11.
Developments happening in one particular area and in Fallsburg and Fallsburg has seen a huge boom of residential high density residential development. So they’re thinking about maybe implementing another moratorium. There was another moratorium, I think, a couple of years ago, I think, in 2017, I think.
I’m not sure it was that time or I’m thinking. To address the strain that the high density developments have been on this water sewer infrastructure, obviously, they’re. The town is in already in process of replacing some of the sewer plants replacing some of the water towers, replacing these aging infrastructure that town has.
How do you plan to continue these some initiatives like [00:13:00] setting the moratorium or even proposing The rezoning changes, or do you think all that has to be reevaluated?
Mike Bensimon: I’ve never been a fan of one off changes. I do understand what they’re looking to do in Lockshell Drake.
I think the motive is sound. However you, for all of the affected parcels. I think that probably whether it’s required or not, there should have been a greater effort to reach out to the landowners that are affected and try to at least get some of them on board, or at least try to get to understand the reasoning, having businesses there will use less water and sewer than having residential there. And plus it’s on a state road and, it’s near the engines of the town. It, I could definitely see the, all the pros to it. I think it was just the execution with regards to reaching out to the affected landowners.
That would be that’s probably what I would change there. And obviously if they were dead set against it, then, but [00:14:00] as far as making those. Changes piecemeal like that. I’ve never really been a fan of that. I think that requires a community effort. Specifically through something like a comprehensive planning committee that’s, they meet every 10 years.
They set the zoning. To make those little changes afterwards I think is like in bad taste. And as far as the moratorium, I think the moratorium that was discussed had to do with the sewer, right? Basically we’ve hit our limit. No one can hook up into it.
If you build, you can’t really occupy it because there’s has nowhere to go. So that, that’s what’s meant there. And I really can’t have any opinion on that just yet because I, the town engineer did reach out to me to try to give me a briefing on everything, the status of everything that’s going on.
And I’m, and we’re going to find a time before coming into office so hopefully get briefed on that. But the bottom line is water sewer is always the government’s [00:15:00] responsibility. And we dropped the ball by not planning for this ahead of time. But at the same time, we cannot hook people up into an overburdened system that would result in dumping raw sewage into the never sink that would be catastrophic, soI don’t know where we are.
I don’t know what the methodology used to come up with the numbers. It looks like so I can’t really discuss the more, going forward with the moratorium. Until I, I know more about the situation at hand.
Patricio Robayo: Building Department in this past couple of months.
I’ve seen a large turnover. A lot of people have left the building department and we’re. In a lot of meetings, we’re talking about the explosive growth that’s happening and, like I said, there’s 1 particular area in last show. Drake 11 developments are in the pipeline already and people have brought it up in meetings, and I also think also when I attend these meetings is how was the building department doing? With this, I’m assuming a huge workload with less people to handle that workload. And obviously, you’re not in office yet. And I’m sure when you go there, you had to [00:16:00] evaluate, find out what’s going on. But is that a concern for you? It has that been brought up to you at any point during the campaign or whatever
Mike Bensimon: Yes yes, it is. It is a concern has been brought up to me. And that’s right, there has been a lot of turnover and it is very problematic because we know that all the work that’s being done on behalf of the planning board for the projects that’s being done there is A full time job on itself.
And then, we have one code enforcement officer. We had, that’s pretty much acting as the department head and then, a handful of new people that are still in the process of being trained while doing their work, which is also detrimental because you lose something in the process by not having a formal training program.
So that is very much concern right now. So right at this point, I obviously have to lock down, appointments town attorney department heads. I don’t really see any change major changes there, [00:17:00] but I need to understand what their challenges are.
Especially when it comes to staffing and the building department has had a lot of turnover for various reasons. That’s very important to me because it’s the government’s, it’s our responsibility to make sure services are running smoothly. We cannot They’re, artificially organically create any stumbling blocks to the public when trying to, if a person is trying to put a carport, in their driveway, it shouldn’t take months and months for someone from the building department to get back to them.
Just to approve a basic permit. This is a problem all around, and I’m and. This is very important to me to look at the current departments to look at the staffing to look at their workloads. That’s going to take a little bit of time, but I’m actually really looking forward to that. Have an opportunity to sit down with people to determine what they’re doing, how they’re doing, whether or not [00:18:00] there’s an extreme burden, whether the burden is causing a higher incidence of it.
Errors in their work which could open us up to liability. So we want to look at all these things. anD yeah, so the short answer is yes, it’s concerning. Yes, it is something that’s been brought up to me. And yes, it is something that I am looking to address almost immediately once I get into office.
Patricio Robayo: You mentioned a little bit in the beginning now that you’re in office now, you get the chance to see the data and it was actually what’s happening and transparency seems to be concerned for a lot of voters.
I seen. Or the lack of transparency, in local government,
So I just wanted to know what’s your views on that going forward as now the town supervisor about the, the concern that some voters have about the potential lack of transparency on local levels.
Mike Bensimon: Sure. Where do you start? Okay, looking at town meetings alone. Okay. I would like to see the town meetings posted to the website, so that anyone can pull up an archive of any [00:19:00] previous meeting.
In the past, we already have the zoom videos. I think it’s just a matter of just posting them. Aside from the agendas, I would also like to have the resolutions that company the agendas because gender isn’t alone can be vague as to what is actually being passed. duRing work sessions, I would like to definitely see more discussion about the things that will eventually be voted on because it’s hard to come in and vote in a block and, it’s hard to believe that that all the people in the room have just heard about it for the first time and they’re all voting on it already.
We have very strict open meetings law that requires us to that, That prevents us from having discussions with other men with more than one member one, if three members get together and they start talking any business, you know that becomes an issue, so you know the idea is to make sure that, we’re, that we’re not getting together and discussing these issues and coming up [00:20:00] with an opinion on it before having to vote on it, it would be ideal if we can come to those conclusions or come to those.
Determinations. In front of everyone else. And if that means the meetings run a little late, then, that’s what we’re there for. So again, that’s just focusing on the meetings itself. Obviously, if there’s more that can be done transparency wise, when it comes to town operations I’m always open for that as well.
Patricio Robayo: Mike, before we go here, anything else I have not mentioned, you want folks to know about you, about your future administration as going forward as a town supervisor for the town of Fallsburg.
Mike Bensimon: I Just want to say I am really thankful to everyone that did come out and vote.
It’s really important, considering that local town government really has the most impact on our lives compared to county, state, and federal government. And I just want to say that. I’m going to try to be reachable to everyone [00:21:00] and I’m really excited to get some positive change and get some good work done.
Patricio Robayo: We’re talking to Mike Ben Simone. Fallsburg task we was elect who’s going to be the new task supervisor, starting 2024, letting us know who he is and what is his vision for the future of the town of Fallsburg. So thank you so much for talking to me..